News / USA

    NYC Landmark Celebrates Centenary

    Carolyn Weaver
    Grand Central Terminal - usually called Grand Central Station - is 100 years old this month, a living symbol of New York City. A year-long celebration is planned for the Beaux-Arts landmark - "beloved, glowing, indispensable," as a new book describes it - that is also one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations.

    Visitors marveled at the ornate limestone building when Grand Central opened on February 2, 1913. They still do. It is the largest train station in the world, by the number of platforms: 44, serving 67 tracks, all underground. About 750,000 people pass through its halls each day, whether to shop, sightsee, or catch a subway or commuter train.

    The immense main concourse, with its arched windows, jewel-like four-sided clock and old-fashioned ticket-seller windows has appeared in many movies, as well, from the 1950s thriller North by Northwest, to a scene in the 1995 The Fisher King, where weary commuters crossing the marble floor are briefly transformed into waltzing couples.

    "Grand Central is the kind of temple, cathedral that testifies to the magnificence of rail transportation, the kind that God would have built if he’d had the money," says Dan Brucker, a transit authority docent who has worked at the terminal for three decades. "But He didn’t. The Vanderbilts did," he adds, referring to the family whose fortune, derived from sea and rail transportation, built the station.

    Train conductors talk to each other shortly before the first Metro North commuter train to leave Grand Central Station in New York, October 31, 2012.
    Train conductors talk to each other shortly before the first Metro North commuter train to leave Grand Central Station in New York, October 31, 2012.
    Stars shine down on commuters

    "Look at how beautiful it is," he says. "This is the beginning of 20th-century architecture.  And as people come through this terminal, they don’t even realize that the magnificent celestial ceiling above them, the very roof of heaven, is exactly wrong, is exactly opposite: It’s a mirror image."

    It is true: the turquoise October sky painted on Grand Central’s cylindrical ceiling, with pinpricks of light for stars, reverses the Zodiac, whether through the painter’s error or choice. "Some suggest the stars are the firmament as God would see the heavens from His or Her side of the firmament, and I sort of like that version," says urban historian Justin Ferate, who has been giving tours of Grand Central for 30 years.

    Ferate says the station was designed to make travel pleasurable: a journey, not a slog. "The amazing thing about Grand Central is that it processes many, many more people than most airports in the world, in a way that’s gracious, and friendly," he says. "Looking up at the starry sky of Grand Central, you know you’re a traveler, you’re going off on a great adventure, you’re going to follow your stars and find your dream. You’re also going to find your train where it’s supposed to be."

    Each architectural element was sized with human perception and anatomy in mind, Ferate adds, from the steps to the blocks in the Tennessee marble floors. He demonstrates by walking backwards down the concourse steps, taking off on a looping run through the crowd, and then sitting down on the floor.

    "One of the amazing things about why people don’t run into each other in Grand Central is something very simple," he says. "Each block of stone in Grand Central is the length of your leg. Each block of stone is a different color, so it’s a checkerboard, based on you. So, when you run across the floor, you subliminally know exactly where everyone is standing."

    A woman pulls her luggage at Grand Central Station while Hurricane Sandy approaches New York, October 28, 2012.
    A woman pulls her luggage at Grand Central Station while Hurricane Sandy approaches New York, October 28, 2012.
    History and mystery

    The terminal is full of secrets and rooms that few people ever see. Deep underground, on a disused track that runs a few blocks to a space beneath the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, sits a rusting railway car. It was used by former president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who hid the fact of his paralysis from public view by transferring directly from the train to a private automobile on his visits to New York.  

    In the Grand Central Oyster Bar, a restaurant that’s been part of the terminal from the beginning, an acoustical anomaly means that private conversations don’t always remain private: the tiled ceiling makes even whispers at some tables audible on the other side of the room. The whispering gallery, which has the same tiled ceiling, is a favorite stage for marriage proposals, according to Ferate.

    Little-remembered now is that Grand Central Terminal was the target of a Nazi plot during WWII: Two German agents were dispatched to sabotage the giant rotary convertors in a deep subbasement that supplied electrical current for the railways. The two were found out and arrested before they reached New York.  In 1976, a group of Croatian nationalists planted a bomb in a locker at the station, hijacked a plane, and issued a set of demands.  The New York Police Department’s attempt to disarm the bomb according to their instructions went awry, however.  Thirty people were wounded and an NYPD bomb squad member killed when the bomb exploded.

    The clock on the south facing side of New York's Grand Central Terminal strikes noon March 29, 2012.
    The clock on the south facing side of New York's Grand Central Terminal strikes noon March 29, 2012.
    View to impress

    One of Justin Ferate’s favorite aspects of Grand Central is its exterior: not only the statue of the Roman god Mercury standing atop the Tiffany clock on the facade - flanked by statues of Minerva and Hercules - but the raised road and tunnel that shunt traffic around the terminal. "As you go through the tunnel, you’ll see daylight at the end of the tunnel and then you’ll rise high above the city," he explains, "And you’ll have buildings on the right and left that are holding you, just like a roller coaster ride at Coney Island!"

    Grand Central narrowly escaped destruction when plans for topping it with an office tower were unveiled in 1968. The 10-year battle to save the terminal helped create the modern architectural preservation movement around the U.S. Now, no one would think of tampering with its classic beauty. In fact, in 2019, Grand Central will become even larger, adding a new subterranean station serving the Long Island Railroad, and cutting the travel times of thousands of commuters. The escalator ride down to what Dan Brucker says will be the deepest station on earth will take two and a half minutes.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora